Except in the case of Mr. Chesterton's picturesque Prologue, which was written last, each contributor tackled the mystery presented to him in the preceding chapters without having the slightest idea what solution or solutions the previous authors had in mind. Two rules only were imposed. Each writer must construct his instalment with a definite solution in view - that is, he must not introduce new complications merely "to make it more difficult." He must be ready, if called upon, to explain his own clues coherently and plausibly; and to make sure that he was playing fair in this respect, each writer was bound to deliver, together with the manuscript of his own chapter, his own proposed solution to the mystery. These solutions are printed at the end of the book for the benefit of the curious reader.In her Introduction Sayers also gives some of the oath that members of the club take at their initiation, regarding their work. I think their rules are good ones!
The author pledges himself to play the game with the public and with his fellow-authors. His detectives must detect by their wits, without the help of accident or coincidence; he must not invent impossible death-rays and poisons to produce solutions which no living person could expect; he must write as good English as he can. . . If here is any serious aim behind the avowedly frivolous organisation of the Detection Club, it is to keep the detective story up to the highest standard that its nature permits, and to free it from the bad legacy of sensationalism, clap-trap and jargon with which it was unhappily burdened in the past.Considering the round-robin way this book was written, I find it a very cohesive story. Without the authors' names at the head of each chapter, I would never have guessed there were twelve writers. There are no real shifts in tone, and I couldn't have picked out the chapters written by Dorothy Sayers or Agatha Christie from the rest. The Floating Admiral of the title, Admiral Penistone, is found dead and drifting in a boat on the River Whyn, early one morning. He was stabbed to death sometime the previous night, after dining with his niece at a local vicar's home. Inspector Rudge from Whynmouth is called to take the case. I was happily following his investigation, until the question of the River came up. It's a tidal river, which may be a factor in when and where the Admiral's body was discovered. But I was reminded again how little I understand tides, and how little the explanations in books help, even when made to people as confused as I am. (And there's a whole chapter titled "Bright Thoughts on Tides.")
"You want to know about the tides in the river?" [Neddy Ware, who found the body] replied, in answer to the Inspector's explanation of the cause of his visit. "Why, they're simple enough, so long as you remember that it's high water, Full and Change, at Whynmouth at seven o'clock."Maybe it's the math involved that throws me, as much as the science. As soon as I see "neeps" or "springs," I know I'm lost, even when (as here) the timetable is crucial to the mystery.
Rudge laughed. "I haven't a doubt it's simple enough to you," he said. "Personally, I haven't the foggiest idea what you're talking about. What on earth do you mean by high water, Full and Change?"
"Why, merely that it's high water at Whynmouth at seven o'clock nearabouts, on the days when the moon is full or new," replied Ware. "Now, take this morning's tide, for instance. To-day's Wednesday, the 10th. It was new moon on Monday, that's to say it was high water at Whynmouth at seven on Monday evening. It would be about eight yesterday evening and half-past this morning. You can allow about six hours between high and low water, making it low water at half-past two this morning. The tide up here begins to flow half to three-quarters of an hour after low water at Whynmouth, or say soon after three. And that's when I went out fishing."
I'm glad to find this book so enjoyable, since last year I read about three more collaborations in Martin Edwards' The Golden Age of Murder, and rushed to order them. They're still on the TBR stacks. Ask a Policeman has the authors swapping characters, writing each other's detectives. In The Anatomy of Murder, the fiction writers take on real-life cases. And in Six Against the Yard, the authors match wits against an actual policeman, a Superintendent from Scotland Yard. Dorothy L. Sayers joined in each of these, but the last is the only one to include Margery Allingham.
Edited to add: I should have noted that Orientalism that runs through the book, starting with G.K. Chesterton's Prologue, set in Hong Kong. It unfortunately includes derogatory references to the Chinese, as well as the usual casual use of the N-word.